A senior endurance figure in The Netherlands has resigned from a key role over his concerns about three horses in the frame to be competed by Dutch riders at the World Equestrian Games.
Marc van den Dungen announced last Monday he was standing down as independent chairman of the Endurance Technical Commission of the Royal Dutch Equestrian Federation, the KNHS.
His resignation followed the nomination of three riders for the Dutch endurance team with horses, at least two of whom are owned by interests in the United Arab Emirates.
Van den Dungen’s concerns centre around the racing workload of the horses and he accused the Dutch equestrian body of not putting horse welfare as a top priority – a claim the federation has rejected. The federation backed the selection of the horses in question, saying it was in line with recent FEI rules.
Van den Dungen said: “The reason for discontinuing my function is the fact that I do not want to be associated with an organisation which pays lip-service to horse welfare that, when it comes to success at the World Equestrian Games 2014, no longer places horse welfare at the top of its agenda.”
He said, in the case of two of the horses: “By competing at the WEG these horses will have been ridden in five tough CEI competitions within a period of eight months.”
They would, he said, have been ridden by Dutch riders at two demanding competitions, with a gap of three weeks between the said competitions.
They are, he asserted, being ridden by “jockeys” – riders who usually ride the horses just once at a competition and then never again. This can give rise to having little or no bond with the horses, he argued.
“These circumstances, at least in The Netherlands, are not judged desirable. Not by experienced riders, veterinary surgeons or trainers,” he said.
“These circumstances are also contrary to the guidelines that are issued by the coaching team of the Dutch Senior Equestrian Squad to top riders.
“It is precisely these circumstances that led to veterinary surgeons present at Compiègne to send a letter of indignation to the FEI, in order to bring to attention the abuse of horses in the sport of endurance.
“I have raised this issue with the KNHS within my capacity as chairman of the Technical Committee for Endurance.”
Van den Dungen argued that, from a political viewpoint, it should be unthinkable for the federation to send these Middle Eastern-owned horses to an international championship, given that it had spoken out internationally denouncing practices in that region in endurance racing.
“I have advised the KNHS not to send these horses to the WEG,” van den Dungen said. “In the meantime, the KNHS has still chosen to send these horses to the WEG 2014.
“As already stated, I do not wish to hold a function within an organisation that puts success and prizes above the welfare of horses.
“For this reason I have resigned as chairman of the Technical Committee for Endurance.”
The KHNS said it regretted van den Dungen’s resignation.
It said the technical committee was a new part of the organizational structure of the federation and had been active only since June 30. It said it was sorry that he was stepping down after only one meeting of the committee.
The federation stressed that the welfare of horses in all sports was a priority, including endurance. It said it had been vocal on the issues of animal welfare and fair sport within endurance, and had a good reputation in the field of horse welfare.
It backed the selection of the horses, saying it was conducted entirely in line with recent FEI rules.
The KNHS had full confidence in the combinations bound for WEG, it said.